In one of my classes recently, we were given the fun task of introducing someone who we feel is a peace-builder. For the work he does engaging men in standing up against gender violence, I chose Jackson Katz– the same Jackson Katz who recently spoke at UBC. Katz is, as his biography reads, “an educator, author, filmmaker and social theorist who has long been recognized as one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists.”
Katz is an outspoken proponent of what he refers to as the “bystander” approach to preventing gender violence. This being that, in his words, he views men “not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers”. He includes in his use of the word ‘abusive’ not only physical violence but other types of abuse including but not limited to verbal abuse. He sees the seeds of abuse growing in the oppressive views about women that are held in mainstream North American culture. Thus, much of Katz’s work as an ‘anti-sexist male activist’ is raising awareness of the role all men can play in changing the culture of violence in which our society is saturated. He encourages men to not remain silent; to realize that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander because even standing by without acting is a form of action in itself.
I would like to mention what is often referred to as ‘locker room behaviour’ where ‘boys will be boys’. Katz is aware of this dynamic in which some men feel they no longer have to censor themselves when in a ‘locker room’ type space, where often toxic beliefs go unchecked. With this in mind he helped to create the Mentors in Violence Prevention program (MVP) which is, “a gender violence, bullying, and school violence prevention approach that encourages young men and women from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds to take on leadership roles in their schools and communities.” The MVP program initially began with a focus on enlisting the support of male athletes in part because, as Katz writes, “[M]ale student-athletes…tend to have enormous clout when it comes to establishing or maintaining traditional masculine norms. Their support or lack of support for prevention efforts can make or break them.” A great success, this program has since been adopted by a number of professional sports teams such as the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox, as well as having been utilized by the U.S Marines and Army in their training programs.
Jackson Katz in his work as an anti-sexist activist has taken a multifaceted approach to combating sexism and gender violence. To this end he has written a number of books, created films, and put on workshops among other endeavours. As such, I believe Katz to be a peace-builder for the work he does to raise awareness of the role that all men can play in stopping violence.